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The 6 Types of Assessment [+ How to Use Them]

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How do you use the different types of assessment in your classroom to promote student learning?

Most students don’t like tests. Testing can contribute to math anxiety for many students. Assessments can be difficult to structure properly and time-consuming to grade. And as a teacher, you know that student progress is so much more than a number on a report card. 

But there’s so much more to assessments than delivering an end-of-unit exam or prepping for a standardized test. As mathematics educator Marylin Burns puts it:

“Making assessment an integral part of daily mathematics instruction is a challenge. It requires planning specific ways to use assignments and discussions to discover what students do and do not understand...The insights we gain by making assessment a regular part of instruction enable us to meet the needs of the students who are eager for more challenges and to provide intervention for those who are struggling.”

The 6 types of assessments are:

But first, let’s find out how assessments can analyze, support and further learning.

What's the purpose of different types of assessment?

Smiling student completing an assessment

Different types of assessments help you understand student progress in various ways and adapt your teaching strategies accordingly.

In your classroom, assessments generally have one of three purposes:

  1. Assessment of learning
  2. Assessment for learning
  3. Assessment as learning

Assessment of learning

Assessments are a way to find out what students have learned and if they’re aligning to curriculum or grade-level standards. 

Assessments of learning are usually grade-based, and can include:

  • Exams
  • Portfolios
  • Final projects
  • Standardized tests

They have a concrete grade attached to them that communicates student achievement to teachers, parents, students, school-level administrators and district leaders. 

Common types of assessment of learning include: 

  • Summative assessments
  • Norm-referenced assessments
  • Criterion-referenced assessments

Assessment for learning

Assessments for learning provide you with a clear snapshot of student learning and understanding as you teach -- allowing you to adjust everything from your classroom management strategies to your lesson plans as you go. 

Assessments for learning should always be ongoing and actionable. When you’re creating assessments, keep these key questions in mind:

  • What do students still need to know?
  • What did students take away from the lesson?
  • Did students find this lesson too easy? Too difficult?
  • Did my teaching strategies reach students effectively?
  • What are students most commonly misunderstanding?
  • What did I most want students to learn from this lesson? Did I succeed?

There are lots of ways you can deliver assessments for learning, even in a busy classroom. We’ll cover some of them soon!

For now, just remember these assessments aren’t only for students -- they’re to provide you with actionable feedback to improve your instruction.

Common types of assessment for learning include formative assessments and diagnostic assessments. 

Assessment as learning

Assessment as learning actively involves students in the learning process. It teaches critical thinking skills, problem-solving and encourages students to set achievable goals for themselves and objectively measure their progress. 

They can help engage students in the learning process, too! One study found:

“Students develop an interest in mathematical tasks that they understand, see as relevant to their own concerns, and can manage. Recent studies of students’ emotional responses to mathematics suggest that both their positive and their negative responses diminish as tasks become familiar and increase when tasks are novel” (21)

Douglas B. McLeod

Some examples of assessment as learning include ipsative assessments, self-assessments and peer assessments.

6 Types of assessment to use in your classroom

There’s a time and place for every type of assessment. Keep reading to find creative ways of delivering assessments and understanding your students’ learning process!

1. Diagnostic assessment

Student working on an assessment at a wooden table

Let’s say you’re starting a lesson on two-digit multiplication. To make sure the unit goes smoothly, you want to know if your students have mastered fact families, place value and one-digit multiplication before you move on to more complicated questions.

When you structure diagnostic assessments around your lesson, you’ll get the information you need to understand student knowledge and engage your whole classroom.

Some examples to try include:

  • Mind maps
  • Flow charts
  • KWL charts
  • Short quizzes
  • Journal entries
  • Student interviews
  • Student reflections
  • Graphic organizers
  • Classroom discussions

Diagnostic assessments can also help benchmark student progress. Consider giving the same assessment at the end of the unit so students can see how far they’ve come!

Using Prodigy for diagnostic assessments

One unique way of delivering diagnostic assessments is to use a game-based learning platform that engages your students.

Prodigy’s assessments tool helps you align the math questions your students see in-game with the lessons you want to cover.

To set up a diagnostic assessment, use your assessments tool to create a Plan that guides students through a skill and automatically drops them down to pre-requisites when necessary.

Want to give your students a sneak peek at the upcoming lesson? Learn how Prodigy helps you pre-teach important lessons.

2. Formative assessment

Teacher in front of a class with raised hands

Just because students made it to the end-of-unit test, doesn’t mean they’ve mastered the skill. Formative assessments help teachers understand student learning while they teach, and adjust their teaching strategies accordingly. 

Meaningful learning involves processing new facts, adjusting assumptions and drawing nuanced conclusions. Or, as researchers Thomas Romberg and Thomas Carpenter describe it:

“Current research indicates that acquired knowledge is not simply a collection of concepts and procedural skills filed in long-term memory. Rather, the knowledge is structured by individuals in meaningful ways, which grow and change over time.”

Formative assessments help you track how student knowledge is growing and changing in your classroom in real-time. While it requires a bit of a time investment — especially at first — the gains are more than worth it. 

Some examples of formative assessments include:

  • Portfolios
  • Group projects
  • Progress reports
  • Class discussions
  • Entry and exit tickets
  • Short, regular quizzes
  • Virtual classroom tools like Socrative or Kahoot!

When running formative assessments in your classroom, it’s best to keep them short, easy to grade and consistent. Introducing students to formative assessments in a low-stakes way can help you benchmark their progress and reduce math anxiety when a big test day rolls around. 

Find more engaging formative assessment ideas here!

How Prodigy helps you deliver formative assessments

Prodigy makes it easy to create, deliver and grade formative assessments that keep your students engaged with the learning process and provide you with actionable data to adjust your lesson plans.

A .gif file showing teachers how to select Assignment skill in Prodigy.
Use your Prodigy teacher dashboard to create an Assignment and make formative assessments easy!

Assignments assess your students on a particular skill with a set number of questions and can be differentiated for individual students or groups of students.

For more ideas on using Prodigy for formative assessments, read:

3. Summative assessment

Students completing a standardized test

Summative assessments measure student progress as an assessment of learning and provide data for you, school leaders and district leaders.

They're cost-efficient and valuable when it comes to communicating student progress, but they don’t always give clear feedback on the learning process and can foster a “teach to the test” mindset if you’re not careful. 

Plus, they’re stressful for teachers. One Harvard survey found 60% of teachers said “preparing students to pass mandated standardized tests” “dictates most of” or “substantially affects” their teaching.

Sound familiar?

But just because it’s a summative assessment, doesn’t mean it can’t be engaging for students and useful for your teaching. Try creating assessments that deviate from the standard multiple-choice test, like:

  • Recording a podcast
  • Writing a script for a short play
  • Producing an independent study project

No matter what type of summative assessment you give your students, keep some best practices in mind:

  • Keep it real-world relevant where you can
  • Make questions clear and instructions easy to follow
  • Give a rubric so students know what’s expected of them
  • Create your final test after, not before, teaching the lesson
  • Try blind grading: don’t look at the name on the assignment before you mark it

Use these summative assessment examples to make them effective and fun for your students!

Preparing student for summative assessments with Prodigy

Did you know you can use Prodigy to prepare your students for summative assessments — and deliver them in-game?

Use Assignments to differentiate math practice for each student or send an end-of-unit test to the whole class.

Or use our Test Prep tool to understand student progress and help them prepare for standardized tests in an easy, fun way!

See how to can benchmark student progress and prepare for standardized tests with Prodigy.

4. Ipsative assessments

Young student practicing writing the letter A

How many of your students get a bad grade on a test and get so discouraged they stop trying? 

Ipsative assessments are one of the types of assessment as learning that compares previous results with a second try, motivating students to set goals and improve their skills

When a student hands in a piece of creative writing, it’s just the first draft. They practice athletic skills and musical talents to improve, but don’t always get the same chance when it comes to other subjects like math. 

A two-stage assessment framework helps students learn from their mistakes and motivates them to do better. Plus, it removes the instant gratification of goals and teaches students learning is a process. 

You can incorporate ipsative assessments into your classroom with:

One study on ipsative learning techniques found that when it was used with higher education distance learners, it helped motivate students and encouraged them to act on feedback to improve their grades. What could it look like in your classroom?

5. Norm-referenced assessments

student taking a summative assessment

Norm-referenced assessments are tests designed to compare an individual to a group of their peers, usually based on national standards and occasionally adjusted for age, ethnicity or other demographics.

Unlike ipsative assessments, where the student is only competing against themselves, norm-referenced assessments draw from a wide range of data points to make conclusions about student achievement.

Types of norm-referenced assessments include:

  • IQ tests
  • Physical assessments
  • Standardized college admissions tests like the SAT and GRE

Proponents of norm-referenced assessments point out that they accentuate differences among test-takers and make it easy to analyze large-scale trends. Critics argue they don’t encourage complex thinking and can inadvertently discriminate against low-income students and minorities. 

Norm-referenced assessments are most useful when measuring student achievement to determine:

  • Language ability
  • Grade readiness
  • Physical development
  • College admission decisions
  • Need for additional learning support

While they’re not usually the type of assessment you deliver in your classroom, chances are you have access to data from past tests that can give you valuable insights into student performance.

6. Criterion-referenced assessments

Criterion-referenced assessments compare the score of an individual student to a learning standard and performance level, independent of other students around them. 

In the classroom, this means measuring student performance against grade-level standards and can include end-of-unit or final tests to assess student understanding. 

Outside of the classroom, criterion-referenced assessments appear in professional licensing exams, high school exit exams and citizenship tests, where the student must answer a certain percentage of questions correctly to pass. 

Criterion-referenced assessments are most often compared with norm-referenced assessments. While they’re both valuable types of assessments of learning, criterion-referenced assessments don’t measure students against their peers. Instead, each student is graded on their own strengths and weaknesses.

How to create effective assessments

You don’t want to use a norm-referenced assessment to figure out where learning gaps in your classroom are, and ipsative assessments aren’t the best for giving your principal a high-level overview of student achievement in your classroom. 

When it comes to your teaching, here are some best practices to help you identify which type of assessment will work and how to structure it, so you and your students get the information you need.

Make a rubric

Students do their best work when they know what’s expected of them and how they’ll be marked. Whether you’re assigning a cooperative learning project or an independent study unit, a rubric details the exact requirements students must meet to get a specific grade.

Ideally, your rubric should have a detailed breakdown of all the project’s individual parts, what’s required of each group member and an explanation of what would be poor, passable, good or excellent work. 

A well-crafted rubric lets multiple teachers grade the same assignment and arrive at the same mark. It’s an important part of assessments for learning and assessments of learning, and teaches students to take responsibility for the quality of their work. 

There are plenty of online rubric tools to help you get started -- try one today!

Ask yourself why you're giving the assessment

Teacher in classroom supervising students completing a test

While student grades provide a useful picture of achievement and help you communicate progress to school leaders and parents, the ultimate goal of assessments is to improve student learning. 

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What’s my plan for the results?
  • Who’s going to use the results, besides me?
  • What do I want to learn from this assessment?
  • What’s the best way to present the assessment to my students, given what I know about their progress and learning styles?

This helps you effectively prepare students and create an assessment that moves learning forward.

Don't stick with the same types of assessment — mix it up!

Teacher in front of a classroom and pointing at a student with a raised hand.

End-of-unit assessments are a tried and tested (pun intended) staple in any classroom. But why stop there?

Let’s say you’re teaching a unit on multiplying fractions. To help you plan your lessons, deliver a diagnostic assessment to find out what students remember from last year. Once you’re sure they understand all the prerequisites, you can start teaching your lessons more effectively. 

After each math class, deliver short exit tickets to find out what students understand and where they still have questions. If you see students struggling, you can re-teach or deliver intervention in small groups during station rotations

Once you’re sure every student has mastered the skill, deliver an end-of-unit test. If one or two students do poorly, you can offer one-on-one support and give them a chance to improve their grades. 

Now your students are masters at multiplying fractions! And when standardized testing season rolls around, you know which of your students are most likely to struggle — and where. 

Build your review based on the data you’ve collected through diagnostic, formative, summative and ipsative assessments so they perform well on their standardized tests.

Final thoughts about different types of assessment

Remember: the learning process doesn’t end once students put down their pencils at the end of the test.

It’s an ongoing process, with plenty of opportunities for students to build a growth mindset and develop new skills. 

Do you have any unique examples of the types of assessments you use in your classroom? Share them below to inspire other teachers!

Prodigy is a fun, game-based learning platformed loved by over 90 million students, teachers and parents around the world. Join today to make delivering assessments and differentiating math learning easy — at no cost!


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